The game has a couple of aspects that make every game you play unique. One of these is the random order of cards in the encounter deck, making for different staging steps each time. Another one is that of shadow cards. These are dealt to enemies and can either do nothing or end up causing you to lose your defender. There are a lot of nasty shadow effects, such as dealing damage to the defender, giving the enemy an attack boost, or having the enemy attack again. In order to circumvent this randomness in the game, the developers have given a couple of options to the players to counter shadow cards. Some of these effects are harder cancels than others, so let’s see what player cards are staples when it comes to shadow card manipulation.
Shadow card manipulation
Now, I chose this wording carefully, as I will not be discussing the cancellation of shadow effects only. There are cards out there that straight up cancel the effects, but others can provide useful information about the shadow cards by peeking at them or turning them face up before triggering their effects. There are several scenarios that have brutal shadow effects like any scenarios in the Against the Shadow cycle, and the Battle of Carn Dum. So with all that in mind, let’s check out the best cards that deal with shadow cards.
I wanted to start with Spirit because of the easier access that sphere has with cancellation effects, but then I remembered an old card that hasn’t gotten nerfed in all those years. Besides that, Lore also has other manipulation effects, being the manipulation sphere. Dark Knowledge isn’t a very popular card (except in a grief deck), but the knowledge of knowing what card is dealt to an enemy can remove some uncertainty of who to defend the attack with. But let’s start with one of the hardest counters to shadow cards in the game:
No, this isn’t a burning king of Dale, but rather the overpowered Lore attachment from the Mirkwood cycle. While 2 cost in Lore isn’t cheap, the Item can attach to both heroes and allies, as long as they have the Lore icon. The Brand isn’t unique allowing you to have multiple cards on different characters. When the attached character is used to defend an attack, all shadow effects on the attacking enemy are cancelled. Just like that, a hard cancel against any effects on the enemy’s shadow cards. The fact that you don’t have to exhaust the attachment allows you to defend multiple attacks if the character has readying effects. This is why a Bilbo deck from the early card pool was such a strong deck, with Fast Hitch to ready him, and Burning Brand to exactly know the damage he would take. But the Brand is also great on tough allies like Ents, who can set their own branches on fire to get rid of shadow effects. The card is still included in many decks these days as it allows you to completely ignore the shadow effects, which is crucial in certain quests, especially in the Against the Shadow cycle. The fact that the Brand is 2 cost forces you to wait a while to play the Brand, but once it hits the table, it solves the uncertainty of shadow cards. This is truly the best card against the shadow effects, and I could see an errata for this card at some point to restrict it a little (maybe exhaust the Brand to cancel the shadow effects to avoid multiple uses per round).
Not only does this sphere have the most ways to interact with shadow effects, it also keeps getting new cards for the mechanic. In Fire in the Night that was recently released, the Spirit sphere gained Quicker than Sight, which can discard shadow cards at the cost of returning a Silvan ally. I did not include the card in the staples list, as it is too new for this, so we first want to see it get some play before it is decided if the card is any good. In the meantime, Spirit has a host of other cards that discard or reveal shadow cards, let’s see which ones are staple-worthy.
A Core Set classic, and with A Test of Will one of the best cards to come out of the Core Set for the Spirit sphere. The event costs 1 Spirit resource and allows you to cancel the effect of a shadow card that just triggered. This is a more responsive card, allowing you to save the event until you really need it to save a hero. This card has saved me a lot of trouble in the past but has some restrictions on it. First of all, you need to keep a resource ready to pay for the event, and you need to have the card in your hand. On top of that, the effect isn’t repeatable unless you use the Map of Earnil or Dwarven Tomb. Having a Hasty Stroke in your deck will save you a lot of problems during combat, and it is always appreciated to play across the table. But the fact that it only cancels 1 effect and isn’t repeatable, makes it slightly worse than the Burning Brand. Since Hasty Stroke is a reactive card though, I feel like it gets cut from many decks that try to slim down to 50 cards. It is not the flashiest of cards, but it will get the job done.
Not only did this guy provide Spirit with a great defensive ally, but it also provided yet another form of shadow cancellation for the sphere. Jubayr is one of the big Harad allies and does not disappoint with his 3 defence and 3 hitpoints. Of course, in more modern quests, you might need to give him some attachments or buffs to survive longer, but he is still a solid ally for a sphere that isn’t renowned for its defending capabilities. The real strength of Jubayr is his effect, where players can discard any one shadow card dealt to a non-unique enemy when Jubayr defends. While this is limited to once per phase, it does not have to be the shadow card attached to the enemy that Jubayr is defending. This allows players to free up one enemy of shadow cards, and potentially take a safe undefended attack. Since Jubayr has the Sentinel keyword, he can always defend for the first player, which can free up any other shadow card on the table at that point. There are of course some downsides to Jubayr, the first being his high cost of 5. Luckily, Spirit has some cost reducers in sphere to offset this cost, and could even play Jubayr for free with Caldara. The other downside is that Jubayr is unique, which would be obvious, as multiple copies would be too powerful, but it makes it easy for players to end up with an extra copy of him in hand. Luckily, the Harad synergy has ways to use those extra copies, though Jubayr can also function well outside of traditional Harad decks.
Like I said in the beginning of the article, the staples involve more than just cancelling or discarding shadow cards. In this game, knowledge of the unknown is very powerful, and allows you to face the encounter deck without surprises. For staging, this can be done through scrying, but with shadow effects, this gets more difficult. For this, the Spirit sphere has the Silver Lamp attachment. This Lamp allows you to see all the shadow cards dealt to enemies engaged with you, before they are triggered. Since the shadow cards are dealt face-up, this attachment gives you a benefit of knowing exactly for how much each enemy will hit (unless the shadow will deal another shadow card). This knowledge is important, since you can now know exactly which character will survive the attack, and who would die under those circumstances. The catch to this attachment is that the attached hero must be ready at the time that the shadow cards are dealt. If the hero is exhausted, they cannot use the Lamp and the shadow cards will be played face down as usual. Luckily, there are several heroes with built-in readying effects (Lanwyn, Idraen) or that can make use of readying effects in Spirit to be ready at the time of the combat phase (Light of Valinor, Unexpected Courage). If you can reliably ready the attached hero, then the lamp will allow you to shine a light on what is to come during the combat phase. Remember that the effect only interacts with shadow cards dealt to enemies engaged with you. This lowers the potential of the lamp a bit, as you cannot Sentinel defend enemies engaged with other players without knowing the shadow card.
While not on par with the other cards in the Spirit sphere, I do want to mention Shadows give Way. The effect is a hard counter to all shadow effects in play and will discard all shadow cards when it is played. I cannot begin to stress how crucial this card has been for my playthroughs of Battle of Carn Dum. The cavia of this card is that it is a 3 cost event, but not only that, but the card has to be paid for from three different resource pools. With Prince Imrahil in the Spirit sphere, and the fact that you can Sword-thain a Spirit ally and have Thalion become a Spirit hero as well, those 3 Spirit heroes don’t mean that you need to play a mono-spirit deck from the start. The ability to block all shadow effects makes it easy for the entire group to handle their attacks and have enough characters ready for the attacks back since enemies won’t make multiple attacks because of their shadow effects. The cost of 3 resources is pretty high, so this event is only really worth it in higher multiplayer games, against scenarios that are pretty brutal with their shadow effects (read: The Against the Shadow cycle). I would not consider it a staple, but try it out sometimes for a very easy round of defending!
If any sphere really needed shadow cancellation, it was Tactics. For a long time, the Tactics sphere relied on other spheres for their cancellation, but the Flame of the West box offered an event for the sphere to make the mono-Tactics deck more viable (besides Tactics Eowyn of course).
Copying the art of the box and the fellowship mat of the same year, Sterner than Steel can be found in a lot of Tactics decks that rely on a lot of Weapons and Armour attachments. Sterner than Steel allows the controlling player to exhaust a Weapon or Armour attachment to cancel the effect of a shadow card for 0 cost. In tactics, your defender will likely have one of these attachments on them (except for if you are defending with Beorn). This does restrict the event to the mid-game, as you first need to find and play a Weapon or Armour attachment. But with Tactics Beregond and Open the Armoury, this shouldn’t take very long. The downside to this event is that you will need to exhaust the attachment on the defender, making it impossible to use other events like Foe-Hammer and Goblin-Cleaver. But for cancelling shadow effects, this is really a solid card to bring, though you need to remember that you will need to include weapons and armour attachments to your deck that you don’t mind exhausting to use as fuel for the event. This is not a truly splashable card, though you can easily throw in some Weapons to make this attachment great. Dale decks also like this event a lot, because of the numerous attachments that can trigger with this card.
Surprisingly enough, Leadership has quite a lot of shadow cancellation effects. It even has two heroes dedicated to the cause, and if you would have a mono-leadership Rohan deck, you would be excellently equipped to handle shadow effects. Here are some of the cards that react to shadow effects.
While we shouldn’t forget about Balin and his ability for replacing shadow cards after their effects would have triggered, I feel as if Erkenbrand is the more reliable hero when it comes to shadow cancellation. Sure, Balin doesn’t have to defend the attack himself, but at the cost of a resource and the unknown for the new effect on the new shadow card, I feel like I would rather defend with Erkenbrand and deal him a point of damage to just cancel the effect. Erkenbrand is pretty strong as a defender and can become even better with a Mount that we will cover soon. The ability to cancel shadow effects in exchange for damage is great, though you will need some sort of healing on him to let him survive multiple attacks. But if you can get Self-Preservation on Erkenbrand, you should be in the clear. Another way to prevent Erkenbrand from dying too quickly would be to boost his hitpoints. The new Ancestral Armour attachment works perfectly with him, giving him 2 extra uses for his ability, and +2 defence to block enemy attacks. Note that his ability is a cost so you cannot cancel the damage on Erkenbrand that he would take to cancel the shadow effect with an Honour Guard for instance. Healing is the only way to get rid of his damage tokens. I feel like Erkenbrand is underused a lot, and will be making a deck with him shortly.
As far as non-unique Mount attachments go, I think it is safe to say that the Armored Destrier is loved best by the majority of the players. This steed makes any Leadership or Sentinel hero into a capable defender for multiple uses. The 2 cost Restricted Mount will take up a slot usually reserved for your Armor attachments though so you will have to make the decision between that piece of armour or the mount. If you pick the mount, your hero will gain the ability to ready after they defend an enemy attack. Before the shadow card is flipped over and the attack is resolved, the Destrier allows that hero’s controller to also pick a shadow card on a different enemy engaged with the same player. This can take off the heat for one player, as the defender will likely be able to defend 2 attacks with relative safety. Being able to mount up any Sentinel hero makes the Destrier even better, as those defences can now be used across the board. The Armoured Destrier will require the attached hero to have some more attachments on him if you want to keep that hero around for a while. The attached hero will be taking a lot of attacks so it would be wise to either bump up the defence of the hero or to get some healing going as well. Remember that the Destrier cannot discard the shadow effect from the first enemy that is defended. This reduces its usefulness a little, as you will need to have more enemies engaged with one player to make use of the shadow discard effect. But even then, the Destrier readies the attached hero, which is worth 2 resources by itself. Being a Mount, it can also boost the stats of the attached hero with Elfhelm, making it even more useful for Leadership characters.
Neutral hasn’t really got a lot of shadow management, as it is a bit too specific for a broad non-sphere that doesn’t get as many cards as the regular spheres. But at least they do give it as an option to Gandalf players. If new Neutral shadow management cards were to be released, I would imagine them to be a bit more expensive or restricted to keep the current cards relevant.
As a part of the “Gandalf toy pack” that is The Road Darkens, the players got his Staff. This 2 cost attachment can only attach to Gandalf and will fill one of his Restricted slots. Once attached, the controlling player can use the Staff for a variety of uses, such as getting a resource on any hero, have any player draw one card, or discard a shadow card from a non-unique enemy. Not only do I feel like the last ability is the most thematic, but it is also the effect I see used most often. Of course, it is restricted in that it can only pick a shadow card from a non-unique enemy, and that you will have to guess blindly at what shadow card to discard. Silver Lamp or Dark Knowledge would help a lot in this regard. This attachment is very versatile, and you can even benefit from it if you don’t have any enemies engaged. The fact that you can pick any non-unique enemy at any point during the round (not just the Combat phase) also makes the attachment useful. The only downside is that you will have to exhaust the Staff and are forced to play Gandalf in any form. This forces your deck in a certain direction (Gandalf Guy) and does not make Gandalf’s Staff into a very splashable card. But eventually, the Staff can pay for itself and will always have a use, so throw one in there if you are planning on running Gandalf.
I hope this list has given you some new ways to deal with those random shadow effects. Feel free to run these in your decks, but try to scout out the encounter deck to see if it is really needed. Not all shadow effects are as bad or as common. With that said, I am glad to have returned to this segment, if you have any suggestions for the next staple article, feel free to let me know!